London Korean Links

Covering things Korean in London and beyond since 2006

LBF sketch: the snippets which didn’t quite make it…

The Korean pavilion at the London Book Fair
The Korean pavilion at the London Book Fair

Sometimes a discussion session is really interesting and you come out of it thinking you’ve get some really good material; and then when you check your notes later there’s just not enough to do a coherent write-up – or the notes don’t make a lot of sense. Or one session might cover the same ground as another one, and so you combine the two write-ups, but leave behind as orphans the little pieces that don’t fit into the larger article…

Well, that’s how it was for me at some of the London Book Fair sessions. So here’s a compendium of all those little snippets and notes which contained some good information but which didn’t quite make it into a more substantial article (or even a coherent sentence) but which I wanted to dump here for my own reference.

Krys Lee

(– with Shin Kyung-sook and Quaisra Shahraz in Separations, at Asia House, 10 April.)

Krys Lee (centre right) with Quaisra Shahraz (centre) and Shin Kyung-sook (centre left)
Krys Lee (centre right) with Quaisra Shahraz (centre) and Shin Kyung-sook (centre left)
  • Krys Lee emigrated to US aged 5. Her father, a pastor, was in trouble with the Korean government. She returned to Korea after university. “I dream in both languages”

Drifting House

  • The stories were written for Krys herself, as she felt a great pressure to try to understand her parents’ generation. She didn’t expect to be published.
  • In part, the stories express her anger: her boyfriend “disappeared” into corporate culture working a 6 day week / 12 hours day and “died before my eyes” ( – see the short story Salaryman)

Her second novel

  • “I’m on the side of the person who’s trying to survive.”
  • Her second novel is on the subject of North Korean defectors. She spent many years as an activist, working on the North Korean border. The missionaries’ role in working with defectors can be quite “complicated”.

Her third novel

  • Third book will be sci-fi

Lee Seung-u and Kim Hyesoon 

(– in Illusions and Reality: Writing the Self with Helen Ivory; Chaired by Michael Hulse, on LBF Day One, 8 April)

Lee Seung-u (centre left) with Kim Hyesoon (centre right)
Lee Seung-u (centre left) with Kim Hyesoon (centre right)

Lee Seung-u

  • The Reverse Side of Life explores the identity of a novelist, as reconstructed from a number of sources. It is partly autobiographical.
  • Writing a novel is “like doing striptease backwards”: you start with yourself, naked, and you clothe yourself, dress yourself up in the narrative, covering yourself up with different layers of the story.
  • Bak Bug-il’s story is different from the author’s story, but “some part of my story is in there.”
  • “You write autobiography by writing novels.”

Kim Hyesoon

  • The language available to me was loaded and occupied by male voices. The rhythm and aphorism of poetry had been planned by and used for years by males.
  • Men have a fixed idea as to how a woman should be and should behave. But as a poet I’m a girl, a whore, a saint, a grandmother.
  • A move to the vernacular characters from Chinese script, away from male language, permits different tone and rhythm, a different language and location from poems of the past.

Shin Kyung-sook, Han Kang

(– with Kerry Hudson in Families, Relationships and Society, chaired by Rachel Holmes on LBF Day Two, 9 April)

Shin Kyung-sook (centre left) with Han Kang (centre right)
Shin Kyung-sook (centre left) with Han Kang (centre right)

Rachel Holmes: All love, all wars, all hate, start in the family

Shin Kyung-sook: Please Look After Mother is about a disconnect within the family, between two different generations: the mother and the daughter don’t know each other

Han Kang: I have no experience of such a gap, because I have no experience of tradition. I grew up within an urban environment, so I don’t feel the loss of the traditional Korean rural society. But tradition is not altogether removed from modern life.

SKS: in urban life there is a loss of intimacy, of making things with your hands. You don’t even know your neighbours. I wondered if I should really stay in the city because everything seemed so cold and so harsh. Modernity is not equivalent to the loss of tradition, but there is a conflict between the two in my work

HK: I was brought up in a hanok in Gwangju. I had a big family, with lots of relatives, and we grew up paying respect to elders. But in Seoul, everything was fast and ruthless. It felt like winter. Modernity to me has a feeling of coldness- I remember the harshness of when I first moved to Seoul.

Shin Kyung-sook (L) and Han Kang
Shin Kyung-sook (L) and Han Kang

HK: Vegetarian is about food and sensuality. It’s also about loneliness. The act of salvation, the inner workings of humans. Escape from the body. Beauty and violence coexist in our lives. Empathy.

SKS: I don’t set out to write about family. It just happens to be the setting in which I portray my story. I hope to reach out and touch my readers, and convince them that despite all the pain, humans can be beautiful. I write because I constantly question myself, what am I? What is my place in society? Writing is an exploration of myself.  I don’t like travelling, but I can’t go back to my real home. I always take a book on a journey.

HK: My fate is to travel. I have always read. I remember as a child, I read a book all day and after many hours I wondered why I couldn’t read any more. It was because it was dark: the sun had gone down and I hadn’t noticed. What is the dignity of humanity? & how can that dignity be broken so easily? I find these questions unbearable sometimes.

Han Kang (L) with her translator Deborah Smith
Han Kang (L) and her “amazing” translator Deborah Smith, with the cover of The Vegetarian, at the London Book Fair in 2014 (photo © LKL)

HK: My translator is amazing.

SKS: when I see my translated books, I momentarily feel like an illiterate person. I think of my translators as my Twin Souls.

Yoon Tae-ho and Hwang Sun-mi

(– in Adaptations – from Page to Screen moderated by Martin Rowson on LBF Day Three, 10 April)

L ro R: Maya Jaggi, Hwang Sun-mi, Yoon Tae-ho, Martin Rowson
L ro R: Maya Jaggi, Hwang Sun-mi, Yoon Tae-ho, Martin Rowson

Yoon Tae-ho (YTH) has 1 billion readers.

YTH: With Moss, the film rights were signed over while the toon was still being serialised. I was publishing 2 cartoons per week, and at the same time holding meetings with Kang Woo-suk and the film crew. Webtoons are the object of much interest for films. Some writers work closely with film companies.

Moderator: What are the differences between webtoons and graphic novels?

  • YTH: With a webtoon you can alter the size of the space between cuts. Plus, you are closer to the audience – you can get attacked immediately. It is a psychological burden. “When writing webtoons, you are so close to the readers. You can read their comments right away”
  • I did a webtoon on the Korean War. It was very political. I did a lot of objective, factual research to defend myself, but still I got attacked.
Yoon Tae-ho
Yoon Tae-ho

Moderator: How does the revenue stream work?

  • YTH: The portal pays me a salary for my webtoons. And the site takes a commission on my advertising revenues.
  • Hwang Sun-mi (HSM): I’m jealous of YTH. My revenue comes from books. When a book is adapted, the writer is the last to get paid. I don’t get much. KBS were negotiating with me a while ago, and they were treating me as if they were giving me free publicity. I turned it down. We have the right to say no.
  • YTH: I sold the rights for 5 years far too cheaply. (“I cried on the bus home after selling the rights to my work too cheaply”) So I got together with other writers and formed a company to help protect our rights. Incomplete Life was used in a coffee commercial without my permission.
Hwang Sun-mi
Hwang Sun-mi talks about the film adaptation of her book

Moderator: Is there any censorship or political interference?

  • YTH: There is a censor panel. An “R” rating would limit circulation.
  • HSM: With Leafie, darkness was a concern. As it’s a children’s story some people think we need a happy ending. I was upset when the death at the end was cut in Germany.

Korean Translation Slam

(– with Deborah Smith and Eugene Lee; Chaired by Kelly Falconer, at Literary Translation Centre, Earls Court, 10 April.)

LBF - L to R: Kelly Falconer, Deborah Smith and Eugene Lee
L to R: Kelly Falconer, Deborah Smith and Eugene Lee

I’m afraid I didn’t take many notes of this session. But I recall elsewhere that it was “probably the most intellectually stimulating session of the Fair”. Deborah Smith and Eugene Lee grappled with a passage from Kim Aeran’s My Brilliant Life (aka My Palpitating Life, 두근두근 내 인생) in which we are introduced to the parents of the central character (Ahreum): brief character sketches of the mother, known as “Princess Potty-Mouth” for her persistent use of bad language, and the father, who is not good at anything much. The session made us yearn for the full novel to be translated into English. [Update January 2021: it’s finally hitting the bookstores this month, with Kim Chi-young as the translator]

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